Education and Belonging in the Context of an Unknowable Future: Youth Aspirations in Kakuma Refugee Camp

Research has demonstrated the significant role of schools in shaping young people’s evolving sense of civic identity, agency, and belonging. Yet we know little about the educational experiences of refugee youth whose opportunities for participation are constrained by encampment and exclusionary citizenship policies. Drawing on participatory and ethnographic methods, this research employs the framework of youth citizenship as a lens into educational interactions in a refugee camp setting. Through participant observation in classrooms and communities, this study documents the educational trajectories of a youth cohort over three years as they develop their future aspirations amidst political turmoil and protracted uncertainty. The participatory dimension of this work explores the ways in which refugee youth leverage their voice to advocate for educational change. As unprecedented numbers of displaced youth migrate and integrate into stable and weak democracies across the globe, it is crucial to better understand how education systems contribute to young people’s prospects for social mobility and belonging. Findings resulting from this study can deepen our understanding of how schools convey, constrain, and create youth civic pathways, so that we can better prepare youth for their roles as citizens in the present and in preparation for their unknowable futures.

Supported by NAEd/ Spencer Foundation, University of Michigan Office of Research, and U-M School of Education. In collaboration with the Kakuma Youth Research Group.